The United Churches of Olympia

by Jennifer Crain for OLY ARTS

This Sunday, a downtown Olympia church will celebrate its first century. The 10:30 a.m. service at The United Churches of Olympia will feature A Festival of Lessons and Carols, a cantata by Texas composer and church musician Hal Hopson. The work is directed by Dee Morton and will be accompanied by a bell chair, chamber ensemble and organ. Anthems will be sung by a 40-voice choir, along with such seasonal favorites as “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Comfort, Comfort, O My People.” The chamber group includes Jim Balz on violin, Barbara Boyd on percussion, Judith Martin on cello and Diana McQuarrie on flute. Instrumental soloists are cellist Ian Edlund and trumpeter Dan Lundberg. Lynne Palmer directs the bell choir.

The theme for the service is “The Remembrance of Christmas Past: Hope from Heartbreak.” Sunday is the second week of Advent, and the sanctuary will be decorated for the season. At a luncheon following the service, Kevan Hagen will perform a monologue that dramatizes the church’s history, written by Paula Lowe.

Members of Iglesia El Divino Salvador, the congregation’s sister church in Costa Rica, are attending this weekend’s celebrations. The Reverend Fernando Cascantes will participate in both the service and the luncheon. The Costa Rica congregation also celebrated a landmark anniversary this year, its 60th.

This weekend’s service caps off a yearlong commemoration of the church’s federation, when two small churches of different denominations merged in 1916. On December 6 of that year, the Presbyterian and Congregationalist congregations, founded in 1854 and 1873 respectively, signed an agreement to merge. Records state they united in part to form “a common fellowship of love, worship and service.” Today, The United Churches of Olympia is one congregation made up of two denominations, Presbyterian and United Church of Christ. Hagen’s monologue is told from the perspective of Millard Lemon, a person instrumental in forming the federation.

“I think what’s cool is that a hundred years ago these two congregations got together and they didn’t worry about denominations. They didn’t worry about all of that. They just got together because one had a building and one had a pastor,” says the Rev. Dr. Tammy Stampfli, installed as the church’s settled pastor in September. “They met and they decided and they moved forward together. I think that was pretty forward thinking, back in the day. And I think it’s what we need to continue to be. So I hope that laid some kind of subconscious groundwork for our future.”

Today, The United Churches is an active, service-oriented congregation. It hosts the warming center for Olympia’s street population three days a week and works on such issues as racial justice and fairness in housing. Its members have long been friends of the local arts scene. In the past, it had a vibrant children’s choir and hosted art installations in the church. For many years now, the congregation has hosted an annual Dixieland-jazz performance at one of its worship services. It still has an active music program that performs regular, live choral and instrumental music.

What: A Festival of Lessons and Carols

Where: The United Churches of Olympia,
110 11th Ave. SE, Olympia

When: 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 4

How much: free

Learn more: 360-943-1210 | The United Churches of Olympia